What are the Legal Consequences of Dover?

Continuing the discussion from David MacMillan: Ham's Ark Embraces Evolution:

So, here is an exchange we are still curious about.

@David_MacMillan (or anyone else with legal knowledge), can you help us untangle this not? Thank you. Maybe @CaseyLuskin might help us too.

Precedents have been overturned before, so it isn’t impossible. However, there needs to be a really good reason to do so, and I don’t see ID making it over this hurdle.

The path forward for ID is pretty simple. Convince scientists and have ID become the consensus position. This will result in ID having secular purpose and it will easily pass the Lemon test.


Precedent can absolutely be overturned, but it would be challenging to do so. Stare decisis is strongly held within the federal court system and only a very specific set of circumstances could lead to the defeat of Dover.

The most likely vector for overturning Dover would be a local attempt to promote intelligent design which was then challenged in the courts. The attempt would need to be made such that the legal challenge differed in some material way from the legal issues present in Dover. It would appeal up to a separate court of appeals, and that court would then consider Dover.

The most favorable outcome for ID proponents would be that the secondary court would issue an ambiguous or split ruling – e.g., “This case differs from Dover on points A, B, and C, but it is similar to Dover on points D and E. We concur with Dover on point D but disagree on point E.” Either party could then appeal to the SCOTUS, asking for the ambiguity to be clarified.

This whole affair would be very unlikely, though. You’d need a ridiculously partisan court to get any direct challenge to Dover past the early stages.


Linguist’s note:

For those unfamiliar with the legal term, Stare decisis is Latin for “to stand by things already decided" (or, translating the plural ablative more rigidly, “to stand according to decided-things”.) Obviously, it commonly refers to legal precedents.


so, NOT a staring contest, got it! :wink:

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With some of the Supreme Court’s split-decisions, one wonders if there has been a glaring contest.